Lahore: At least 15 people were killed and more than 80 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked churches in Pakistan on Sunday, sparking mob violence in which two other suspected militants died.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jamatul Ahrar claimed responsibility for the twin blasts near Saint John Catholic Church and Christ Church in Youhanabad area, the country’s biggest Christian locality, housing at least one million people.
According to the reports, the blasts went off minutes apart in a majority Christian suburb of the eastern city. Police said it seemed they targeted two churches, one Catholic and one Protestant, that are very close to each other.
Police cordoned-off the entire area and the injured were shifted to Lahore General Hospital. The condition of several wounded is reported as critical. A large number of people have gathered at the hospital.
Following the blasts, enraged residents lynched two men they suspected of involvement, a police official said.
However, police present there did not stop the mob from 'executing' the suspects, reports said.
"We did not stop the enraged mob as there could have been a clash between the police and the mob," Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Lahore Haider Ashraf said.
"Both attacks were suicide blasts. Police personnel were deployed at the gate of the Churches. Two policemen lost their lives in the blasts," Ashraf said, adding that it is always difficult to stop a suicide bomber.
The DIG further said, "It was the police and local security that deterred the suicide bombers from entering the churches otherwise the loss would have been colossal."
According to sources, some unknown miscreants opened fire near one Church after which the blast occurred whereas a suicide bomber explode himself outside the second Church on being stopped at the gate.
Meanwhile, protesters launched a demonstration outside General Hospital against the Punjab government. Sloganeering continues against the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The enraged protesters demand accountability, and said proper security was not provided to the churches, a Dawn report said.
Members of the Christian community also took to the streets and staged protests in Karachi's Esa Nagri area against the bomb attacks on churches in Lahore, as per media reports.
Angry Christians also did not allow two ministers, top police and district administration officials to visit the blast sites. Christians in Faisalabad, Nankana Sahib, Sargodha and Multan, Karachi and Peshawar also took to the streets to protest the attack on churches.
However, Bishop of Lahore, Irfan Jamil, has appealed to Christians to stay calm and not let terrorists succeed in their design.
"Terrorists want to destroy the peace of this country. They are attacking mosques, Imambargahs and markets. Like minorities they are also attacking Muslims," he said, PTI reported.
Due to the deadly blasts, all missionary schools in Pakistan would remain closed to mourn those killed in the attacks. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also condemned the attack and called it a cowardly act.
Meanwhile, the Lahore police have registered two separate cases -- one against the attack on the two churches and the other against the people involved in killing of the two 'suspects' who were lynched and burnt alive.
According to an initial police report, the terrorists wearing the suicide jacket had stuffed it with five kg of explosives each.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has announced Rs 500,000 for those killed in the attack and Rs 75,000 for the injured.Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan's wealthiest and most populous province and the political heartland of PM Nawaz Sharif.
The city is generally considered peaceful compared with many other areas of Pakistan, but violence here has been increasing after the government's failed attempts to hold peace talks with the Taliban last year.
The Christian community in Pakistan has long been the target of attacks and hate crimes carried out by extremist elements.
In 2013, twin suicide attacks were carried out at the All Saint’s Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area, killing 80 and wounding over 100 others.
(With Agency inputs)